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Creator’s Rights

This post is part of the series Ownership

So far, I have discussed three objections to the first argument for copyright. I think that it should be quite clear that the argument is a failure. However, the second argument is much stronger and more frequently used. The second argument claims that ” creators” have a right to what they create. The so-called right of creators to what they create does not exist as such.

When someone creates something then he either uses things he owns to create it, or he uses things he does not own. If he uses what he owns, then it is obvious that he owns what he creates. His ownership has nothing to do with the actual creation of a thing and everything to do with his previous ownership of it. If someone creates something using what he does not own, then he has either taken from someone else or he has claimed something not owned by anyone. If he has claimed what is not owned by anyone, then he does own the resulting product. This situation is no different than any other instance of claiming and has the same exceptions for it. Creating things is a good thing. Freedom is the freedom to do good things. Therefore, creating something from unclaimed things is an exercise of the good underlying ownership and justifies ownership of the created thing. The only exception would be if another person needed those unclaimed things for food or other natural needs.

So the only remaining way to justify special rights of ownership from creation is by claiming that special rights of taking are justified by it. They are not. Remember that three conditions must be met in order for taking to be justified. The first condition is that it must be the only way to achieve the goal at hand. Since creation of something can be done without taking at all, this condition is not met. The second condition is that it must be done for the purpose of preserving those goods that justify ownership. The taking would be for the purpose of freedom, since creation is a free good. But it would also deny freedom to the one that something was taken from. Taking always and by nature stops the freedom of others. Therefore, this condition cannot be met either. Finally, the third condition states that the goods justifying ownership must be treated according to their true value. This condition may be met if creation does not always justify creating, especially if creating rarely justifies taking. Therefore, two conditions fail to be met and it is morally impermissible to take in order to create.

There is one last area to be discussed. Creating something is a kind of work. If the work is intrinsically good, then the activity of working can be the goal of the work. If the work is instrumentally good, then it cannot be the goal. Insofar as the goal of a creative activity is a thing, then the work is instrumentally valuable. However, this does not mean that the creator has some claim over the thing created. It simply means that the creator should be paid for his work in some way or other. The creator has no claim to the money made from what he created unless such a claim was previously agreed to. This follows from the creator having no claim over what was created. Therefore, there is no special right that follows from creating something.

This argument does little for the present debate into copyright. Why that is so is something to be discussed next.

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